UT trying to turn fortunes arounnd

KNOXVILLE-- There's a saying "If it wasn't for bad luck, I would have no luck at all."
   And until Saturday night, I thought the man who said it was Tennessee head basketball coach Buzz Peterson.
   Tennessee's misfortunes all changed Saturday night following a 66-62 upset victory over the eighth-ranked Syracuse Orangemen at the Thompson-Boling Arena.
   The win was definitely welcomed after what the Vols have been through this year. Their record is 7-9, but they could easily be 14-2.
   Tennessee has lost seven games four points or less, including two games in overtime.
   The Vols most heartbreaking loss might have happened against second-ranked Florida. In that contest, the Vols were up by three in regulation before a trey by Brett Nelson tied the game and sent the contest into overtime.
   But the Vols made sure they weren't going to be denied against Syracuse. The Vols raced out to a 40-23 lead at the intermission, then just held on.
   "It's about time," Peterson said after the contest. "It was a nice performance by our guys."
   The Vols came out like gangbusters in the first half. Tennessee shot 57.7 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes.
   But the second half was a different story. Syracuse rallied all the way back, and it took a 51-49 lead when DeShaun Williams hit a jumper with 9:15 to go in regulation.
   Peterson tried to remain positive through the Syracuse spurt.
   "I've read books, and I've talked to many people," Peterson said. "I am thinking positive the whole time. I don't want to think negative, because I don't want my young men to think negatively. I knew we were in fine shape when we were behind. I knew if we stepped up a little bit we would be OK, and they did."
   Tennessee did the little things in the second half to hold on and win the basketball game. The Vols shot only 18 percent in the final 20 minutes, but they out-rebounded Syracuse 49-27 and went to the free-throw line 24 times. Syracuse only made six trips to the charity stripe.
   Thirty-four of those Vols rebounds came in the second half.
   The Vols didn't play their best in the second half, but they deserved the victory. They had lost so many close games, so they were destined to get the win over one of the country's top teams.
   "It's very important," Tennessee point guard Jenis Grindstaff said about winning a close game. "We've been snakebitten more than once with these close games, so I would like to have a 20 -point lead with a minute left instead of a three-point lead."
   It got a little hairy for the Vols in the final 6.5 seconds when Syracuse's Williams was fouled on a long three-point shot with the Vols up 65-60. Williams made two of the three free-throws, but Grindstaff was then fouled and made one foul shot to ice it for the Vols.
   Grindstaff, who finished with a season-high 18 points, believes the team was capable of winning a big game like this.
   "This team has a lot of character," stated Grindstaff. "We could have given up a long time ago with all the things we've been through, but we know we're one of the better teams in the country. That's what we believe. We played with the best teams in the country, and we should have beaten some of them. We just have to keep going out there, and playing hard and things will go our way."
   Forward Marcus Haislip believes this is the start of something special for the Vols.
   "This is a great win for us," Haislip said. "We've had so many close games, and losses by one point. We just needed a win real bad, and we got that tonight. Now I think things are going to get rolling for us."
   Haislip also thought it was big for the Vols to win a close game, and believes losing all those tight contests will help them down the road.
   "It was a big relief," Haislip said. "When it comes down to late season, I don't think anybody is going to be as prepared for close games as us."
   But even despite Tennessee having some good times now, there is a little bit of bad news to talk about. Star forward Ron Slay likely tore his ACL late in the first half against Syracuse, and will have an MRI done today.
   If Slay is out for a long time, Haislip believes the Vols will just have to move on.
   "We've just got to accept it, and keep playing hard every night," Haislip said.
   The Vols have definitely been a hard luck team, so it was fitting that something good did happen to them Saturday night. And if the Vols keep the same attitude they have now, more great things will probably happen during this basketball season.